Pressure starting to weigh on Duffy
Flora Duffy goes in hot pursuit of an Olympic Games medal in the women's triathlon this weekend and believes the hilly course at Fort Copacabana perfectly suits her strengths.
Duffy, who would become Bermuda's first medal-winner since Clarence Hill won bronze in boxing in Montreal in 1976, has peaked at just the right time after winning both the ITU World Triathlon Series in Stockholm in July and this month's World Cup stop in Montreal.
The 28-year-old is already familiar with the course — a 1.5 kilometres swim, 40km cycle and 10km run — having finished eleventh at the Olympic test event in Rio last summer.
“The course is great and really suits me,” Duffy told LAVA magazine. “That hill is going to be really challenging. If it doesn't play a huge role in the bike, it'll play a huge role in the run.
“You can't go up it spinning. You've got to go up it eight times, so it will fatigue you.
“[The test event] really wasn't a race; it was a weird race. Gwen [Jorgensen] needed to win as the United States had qualification there, the British had qualification there. For some girls like me, it didn't matter.”
Duffy gathered some potentially important snippets of information about her rivals during that race that she intends to use to her advantage on Saturday morning.
“Some girls are weaker the first few laps if they suffer in the swim, then they start to come into their own,” she said.
“It's good to know that if you punch it straight away early, you can get rid of ten people immediately. The few you would want to hang around will be able to hang around, and off you go.”
Ranked No 1 in the ITU World Series rankings, Duffy was unsurprisingly named as a podium favourite in this month's Sports Illustrated, but still insists she is a “dark horse” for a medal.
“Going into the Olympics as the standout ultimate favourite, I wouldn't like that,” said Duffy, who arrived in Rio with her family on Monday.
“I'm starting to feel the pressure and I'm still an underdog. It would be a hell of a thing to get on that podium.
“At first I thought I was a long shot. I mean, going into this year, I thought that if I could finish top eight at the Olympics, I'd be ‘wow'.
“But as my season has progressed, my expectations have come up. If this works out the way I think it can work out, maybe I can get on the podium.”
One of the strongest swimmers in the sport and arguably the standout cyclist, Duffy knows she will have to “nail” those two disciplines if she is to keep Jorgensen, the gold-medal favourite, at bay.
The two-times reigning world champion had an intriguing tussle with Duffy at the WTS race in Leeds in June, with the Bermudian being chased down by Jorgensen during the run and having to settle for second.
“I think being more confident in my racing and my abilities, realising that if I want to do anything in these races, I have to nail the bike,” Duffy said.
“My running's improved to where I'm confident I can run pretty well off a hard bike. Some days it works, some days it doesn't.
“Stockholm it worked great, Leeds I blew up a little. But I'm also learning how hard I can ride. I can go a little crazy.
“No one has outrun Gwen starting the run with her. So if you want to win the gold or give yourself a good chance of being on the podium, you have to come off the bike at least a minute ahead of her.”
Duffy said there has been no magic wand involved in her scintillating form over the past few years. She attributes her success to good old-fashioned hard work and the support of Neal Henderson, her coach at Apex Coaching, and her boyfriend Dan Hugo, a former South African triathlete.
“I'm spending six months of the year in South Africa, actually training and living like a professional,” Duffy added.
“Triathlon is first while socialising and everything else is second. We're shutting all that out and focusing on triathlon.
“I guess Dan helps too. He's really supportive in this lifestyle of swim, bike and run. I have a great support network behind the scenes, but when I go to the races I'm by myself.”